Halloween is only around the corner!

Halloween is fast approaching. My two eldest cubs are at their school’s Halloween party tonight. One as a witch, the other as a Knight in shining armour. Too cute the two!

You might wonder why their school has the party a week away – it’s because the kids here in Ireland will be on mid-term break and are off school all of next week.

It’s always been a fun thing for me to make all sorts of spooktastic food for Halloween. At last year’s party, we’ve had everything from eye balls to witch fingers, jack’o’lantern ice creams and all sorts in between.

For tonight’s party at the cubs’ school, I simply made some shortcrust biscuits in bat form and some as witch fingers. Normally, I’d use a shaved or a whole almond as a fingernail, but due to nut allergies in the school, no nuts at all were allowed (yes, yes, almonds aren’t really nuts, I know, I know! But they’re on the banned list!) So this time, they are tiny pieces of red onion… should give the kids a nice facial expression when they bite into those hahaha!

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To form the fingers, your shortcrust pastry needs to be very cold from the fridge, handled the shortest possible time and best shoved back in the fridge before baking. They easily flow apart otherwise while baking and turn into flat biscuits instead!

Of course, those bats just beg to be decorated with icing, but I hadn’t the time today so they went to the party all nekkid like that 😉

I’ll be putting up more ideas that I’ve used in the past soon; to give you a taster of what’s to come, here’s a pic of our Halloween party food last year:

176663_10151130534126918_1121963627_o So there we have witch fingers in the basket, a tiramisu with creepy crawlies on top, red velvet eyeballs (seriously, they looked so cool on the inside!), broken off fingers on a tray with cheese bugs, toadstools and earthworms on mud… Can’t find the picture of the rotting, amputated foot we’ve had lol

Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, the dish in the middle of the right row… it’s a ‘cat litter tray’ with chocolate poop in crunchy hazelnut litter!

Hungry yet? 😀

Recipes to follow for a great buffet, including a roast pumpkin risotto and the jack’o’lantern ice-creams.

There’s something else I read online today: something called a Switch Witch! Sadly, I cannot remember where I found that link, but it was an interesting idea to take part of the sweet bounty from the trick or treating and leave it as an ‘offering’ near the door. During the night the Switch Witch comes and switches the sweets with a little present. How wonderful to cut down on the awful sweet things the kids get!!

Mind you, ours usually end up giving away half their sweets anyway because: 1) I don’t allow them to keep any sweets that aren’t factory wrapped (so no mix bags of sweets already handled by people!) and 2) a LOT of the sweets they get contain gelatin, which reduces the amount by at least a third each year.

 

Still though, the idea of a present instead of the sweets… can’t help but love the idea! (It was on a blog, so if it was you, please comment and link to it!!!)

 

Tomorrow morning at the toddler play group we’ll have our Halloween party for the little ones. Which means that now I’m off to carve little faces into clementines. A healthy, fun treat for the tiny ones! Try it out, it looks really cool…

 

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… and the smell is delish, too!

 

 

 

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Vegetable Bake

There are few nicer things than a lovely, hot vegetable bake on a rainy day. Especially when it is comfort food you’re craving but still want to have something healthy.

I had this lovely romanesco in the house and really wanted to make something nice with it, so I decided on a vegetable bake. Not least because that gave me the freedom to use up some other vegetables in dire need of being eaten.

For this bake, you can use whatever vegetables you have in the house, there’s no need for a regimented shopping list, but as a guide, this is what I used (serves 6 – generous portions):

  • 1 head romanesco, washed and pulled into florets
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 800g potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and diced
  • 3 spring onions, washed and cut into rings
  • 350 ml cream (use a mix of milk and cream if you’re worried about fat!)
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • grated nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 100g grated cheese
  • salt/pepper

The little pot next to the beans is full of toasted quinoa. It’s nothing you need, but I like the crunch of it, added to the cheese on the top of the dish. So feel free to do that also! As you can see, I’ve chopped the vegetables quite small as to help them cook in the oven. The kidney beans were a last minute addition to add some extra protein.

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After having prepared all the ingredients, I mixed them all up and filled them into a large oven proof dish. Once you’ve done that, in a large jug, whisk the cream (and milk, if you’re using it) together with the mustard, nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and make sure they’re all just about covered. Add a little more cream if they aren’t.

Sprinkle the cheese across the top, add a bit of toasted quinoa for crunch and off with the whole thing into the oven at 200C for 25-30 minutes. Eh voilà:

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I did have a taste and a quick picture last night. However, after a big debacle of Cub 4 having turned the oven temperature down and me having fed the kids the Wholemeal Bread I had baked earlier in the day, we will be having it for dinner this evening instead.

It was delicious though! Notice the steam, hot and wonderful.

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Enjoy and let me know what you thought of it!

Three Days of Madness: Act II

Don’t get me wrong: my children are the best thing in the world to me. When they’re up to mischief, more often than not, I’m laughing about it as much as they are. Take Cub 4, for example. His little big sister, Cub 3, came running into the kitchen the other night and shouted at me that Cub 4 is stuck. Of course I rescued him, but what kind of mother would I be had I not taken a picture of him first:

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Fun as they are, boy did they drive me mad yesterday! Every single button they could, they pushed.

After the usual, and expected, Monday morning madness of trying to get the four of them up, washed, fed, and dressed, I thought that I’d get a little break while they’re all in school, preschool, childcare. Well, if by break I meant time to clean the house, put on a wash and do the dishes, then I got it.

The real trouble started when I picked up Cub 4. He didn’t want to go in the buggy. Not having had his full rain gear and it being a rather incessant soft day out there, I made him sit in it anyway, much to his annoyance. From there we went to pick up Cub 3, who cried all the way home as her legs were tired and I hadn’t brought the double buggy (less than 10 minutes walk, but she can make it seem hours!).

By the time I had to get them out again to pick up Cub 2 from school, I decided to drive and get a couple groceries while I was at it. At least cubs would stay dry and no more crying about walking – until, at the supermarket: my car wouldn’t start again!!!! Rather inconvenient that to say the least.

On the phone, sending a message to the husband about the misbehaving car, I try a sixth time, and voilà: the car started up. Typical. (Hubby is going to check it out and fix that little snag, hurrah!)

Thinking that my bad luck for the day was all used up, I started making some bread and while that was left to rise, I dove right into Mt Washmore.

Mt Washmore, you see, is higher than Mt Everest. Believe me when I say it is. I’ve never really managed to conquer it. I fondly remember the days before the cubs, single and more or less organised. I used to wash one dark and one white wash a week. Ah – memories! It took me a solid hour to fold all the washed and dried clothes, never mind putting them into the closets.

Cub 1 returned from school with one of her best friends, and the two of them had a great time. Add another friend and still, all was well. Add Cub 3, who shares the room with her big sister, to the mix: an eternity of screaming, shouting, missiles throwing later, we had tears and tantrums with me left wondering where their tiaras were.

Only three casualties though:

  1. The clock: it fell off the wall (completely by itself, would you believe. No? Me neither…)
  2. The ceramic horse: a bad decision to use that as a missile. It broke a leg, but the husband glued it. I was ready to throw it out. Good cop, bad cop. Guess I’m the bad one again. Sigh.
  3. The beaded necklace: lovely clatter as it was torn apart by the two pulling on it, then blaming each other for breaking it.

Of course, after all that was resolved, and peace restored it still wasn’t the end of things. I’m not actually sure how much coffee I drank yesterday, but it was a LOT. You see, while holding the mug, I’ve got my hands full and can’t go strangle them. I hear that’s frowned upon anyway, so probably better I drink coffee!

I had finished the bread, and gone on to make dinner. You see, I had this gorgeous romanesco in the house still and needed to make something yummy with it. I love romanesco. So much nicer than just cauliflower. I think it’s the texture as well as the look and the slightly nutty flavour.

So I chopped and stirred and created and pre-heated the oven at 200C and then shoved the vegetable bake in. It takes around 25 minutes to cook in the oven.

When I checked it after around 20 minutes I was disappointed to see the veg wasn’t even nearly cooked through. Doubting myself, I resigned myself to having to wait. After a few more checks and at 45 minutes I realised why it wasn’t cooking: Cub 4 had taken to turning knobs and pushing buttons whenever he got his fingers on them. I found the oven at 110C. No wonder it wasn’t cooking!

What else was I to do but serve up the freshly baked bread sandwiches for dinner, accompanied with carrot sticks and a few crisps on the side (rare that I do that, but hey, it was that kinda day!).

On the plus side, today’s dinner’s already done and only needs re-heating!

Wholemeal Treacle Bread

Another rainy day, already having been to the shops, and realising I hadn’t nearly enough bread in the house. What else was I to do but to simply bake my own?

I threw a few things together willy-nilly and hoped it would work. By golly, it did! It’s one of the most delicious breads I’ve tasted in a long time. And healthy, too!

The treacle I used in this bread is made of 100% sugar beets and 25g of it contains 64% of your daily requirement for iron, 24% of magnesium, 23% potassium and 65% folic acid. Add to that the goodness of the seeds and you’re on to a winner!

Excuse the bad picture but my kitchen’s rather dark and the artificial light does it no justice!

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To make this bread, you need:

  • 400g wholemeal flour
  • 100g chickpea flour
  • 1 sachet dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup treacle (or molasses to some of you, but sugar beet one, not sugar cane!)
  • water

Method:

Mix the flours, salt, yeast and seeds together. Add the treacle and just enough water to make a pliable dough. Knead it through for a good 5 minutes.

Leave it to rise in a warm, draft-free place until it has risen to twice its size. My kitchen was rather cool, so it took nearly 1.5 hours to rise, but if you want to speed it up, leave it somewhere warm.

Once it’s risen, knock it back and knead it through one more time on a floured surface. Then form it into an even loaf and bake it in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 40 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when you gently knock on the bottom of it. That’s how you know your bread is done.

In order to get a lovely crust, leave a small oven proof dish full of water in the bottom of the oven while the bread bakes and brush it with water about half-way through.

Leave it to cool on a wire rack before cutting. That’s if you can wait that long. I’ve had my first slice as soon as it was cool enough to handle.

This is a rather firm bread, that is full of goodness and fills you up nicely.

Three Days of Madness: Act I

It truly has been a helluva few days!!!

All day Saturday was simply mad. I dared take three of the four cubs into one of the busiest shopping centres around, right smack bang in the middle of the day. Let’s just say, it wasn’t the best of ideas!? Apart from the fact that it was insanely crowded, hard to get through the shops with a double buggy and I’m not a shopper at the best of times… sentences such as, ‘Cub 2, stop rolling around and get off that shop floor NOW‘; or, ‘Cub 2, I swear if you hide in the middle of the clothes racks one more time I will leave you there‘; and indeed, ‘Cub 4, stop eating the clothes off the hangers!‘, were heard all day. Much to the amusement of other shoppers. I failed to see what was so funny about it. I hadn’t had nearly enough coffee for that trip.

But, much to my – and the cubs’ – amazement, we all survived that trip and the cubs have some much needed new clothes to show for it.

However, the trip took a lot longer than anticipated, so by the time we were home and all the cubs in bed, I was so wiped, I couldn’t do another trial run of the vegan, gluten free apple pie I was going to bake for Sunday’s apple pie contest.

Fast forward to Sunday morning:

The current husband took the four cubs out to the seafront where the school had a sponsored walk for all the kids to raise funds for new maths equipment. Mind, during the night I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen, as we’ve had a thunderstorm with downpours of epic proportions. Alas, the weather had changed and even the sun was out! Happy days! They were out in the fresh air and I had peace and quiet to bake my contest entries!

But of course, nothing’s ever straight forward when it comes to me. Be boring anyway, right? Right!?

Problem number 1: my last attempt at the gluten free, vegan pastry hadn’t really worked as it lost its form, and had a funny aftertaste when eaten by itself.

Problem number 2: I couldn’t decide which dish to bake. After all, I have a tried and tested Cinnamon Apple Recipe. Well, when I say I have one – I mean, I bought it. It’s the cookbook that has it, really. Brilliant book though ‘La Dolce Vegan!’ by Sarah Kramer. Look it up guys, it’s absolutely full to the brim with fabulous recipes and then some!

How did resolve the problems? Well…

In order to have some sort of chance, I decided to forego the experimental pastry and simply make the pastry that was on the recipe, which was neither vegan, nor gluten free: it was simply vegetarian. I could live with that though, time was of the essence after all: It was 11am and the entries had to be at the venue before 2pm. Really not the time for more experiments.

Result Number 1:

Sarah’s fabulous Vegan Cinnamon Apple Muffins

(I’m not sure on the copyright of the recipe – can you tell I’m new to this? – so I will possibly share this recipe at a later stage when I found out!)

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I knew I had all the ingredients at hand. I had baked them several times before, and also knew they were quick and fool-proof.

Until I needed the egg replacer. My go-to egg replacer is ground flaxseed and water. I always have ground flaxseed in the house. Except Sunday. I still don’t know what happened to it, because I don’t remember finishing it!!!! No matter, there are other ways to replace an egg. I had bananas, but I didn’t want to put an overpowering banana taste into an apple-centered contest! Apple sauce then. Again, the cupboard came up emtpy!

Man, that clock ticked loudly in my ears!!!

Not one to give up easily, I quickly peeled and de-seeded one of the cooking apples and, with a touch of vanilla and water, made my own apple sauce which turned out delicious if I do say so myself!

The oven door wasn’t quite shut on the muffins when I immediately jumped to the apple pies. You see, it was an apple pie contest, but I couldn’t bring myself to just make a traditional apple pie. I wanted to stand out of the crowd and have people go, ‘Oh wow, look at that!

And what did I do? I did what every person would do these days: I asked Google to give me ideas. And boy did I find one, right here: Apple Pie (in the apple) <- and hers look truly stunning, pity I don’t have such pretty flower cutters!

Which brings us to result 2:

Apple Pie (in the apple)

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I used the recipe given on her blog for her ‘sweet pie dough’ exactly as described (well, besides the fact that I had no baking powder left! Honestly, no idea what is going on with me! So I substituted it with 1/2 and 1/2 of Cream of Tartar and Bicarbonate of Soda!):

Ingredients for the pie crust:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1tbsp sugar
100g butter, cold
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Put all ingredients in the jar of a food processor and mix only until it forms a ball. If necessary, add a few drops of cold water. Don’t over mix. If you want do do it manually, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and rub the mixture with your hands until you have a crumbled texture. Add the egg and  mix until it comes together into a ball. If necessary, add a few drops of water. Do not over mix.
(This recipe does indeed make enough for 8 lids on small apples, or 5 lids on large apples. I kept the remaining pastry refrigerated, wrapped in cling film, to do mini quiches for school lunches!)

The apples themselves, however I changed a bit to suit my own tastes. Here’s what it looked like in my kitchen:

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INGREDIENTS for filling: 

insides of two Cooking Apples

 1 tablespoon raisins

 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar

 1/2ish teaspoon carob syrup (or treacle!)

I cut a thin lid off two big cooking apples and used a spoon to take the flesh and core out, careful not to get break the sides. I then discarded the core, chopped the apple flesh into small chunks and mixed those with a tablespoon of raisins. I then added a teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla sugar and just enough carob syrup to coat the lot before spooning it back into the apples.

Pastry lid on top and off into the oven! I baked the apples at 170C (fan assisted oven) for 25-ish minutes. The recipe says 40 minutes but by that time, my apples would’ve fallen apart. I needed them to keep their shape and for my apples, that time was just right, the pastry was just right and all looked well.

In other words, keep an eye on your apples! If the pastry looks done, poke your apples carefully to see if they’re soft to avoid overcooking them.

And here they are, my creations, at their destination: The Happy Pear!

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The creations being judged… the crowds had gathered! And take note of the most rare phenomenon: sunshine 🙂 Who’d have thunk it after the Monsoon the night before!

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To wrap it all up – I didn’t win. Quite happy with the judges’ comments though, they were all-round happy with the baked apples and one told me afterwards that he’s not quite sure why I hadn’t won. Heh. They were all fantastic though, I didn’t envy them their job to chose winners at all.

Best part of it? Besides the fun to enter and having a good time there, we were let loose on the creations after judging and got to taste them all. It was the most delicious Sunday in a long time. I’ll be back next year – and hopefully with a perfect vegan, gluten free pastry!

Of Shards, Trials, Errors, and Porn

Apt, don’t ya think? Another day for the ducks out there… but then, the Irish must’ve lied an awful lot when they were 17. Heh.

Not a bad day at all otherwise today – at least so it seemed. Until, every time I turned around, the little monsters I’m raising got into another thing they weren’t allowed. Like the time I was bursting for the loo and dared to go:

Tiniest man decided he wanted milk. He opened the fridge and brought a glass he had liberated from the clean dishwasher. At least that’s what I’m thinking as no other glasses were within his reach. No matter though, as I only found him when he stood in the middle of the glass shards, shouting, “Oh no! Mami! Glass broken!” 

Shouldn’t have gone to the toilet. *Note to self: Invest in some adult nappies…*

Or the time I went upstairs to get the tiny man out of the bathroom, where he happily played with the running water at the sink – thankfully not overflowing it this time! Came back down within 2 minutes. Did you know that 2 minutes are enough for a 3 and a 5 year old to completely and utterly cover the living room floor with toys? Apparently, she wanted his rocket ship. He didn’t want to give it to her and somehow that meant that all other toys were used as missiles.

Have I mentioned that i had banned all toys to their rooms? Mustn’t have paid enough attention at school during Physics. Only after having children have I realised that living rooms are indeed magnetic. At least where it comes to toys. Those toys might not stick to the fridge, but by golly do they stick to the living room!

And to the bottom of my feet… well, they didn’t stick to them, per se. More into them. Lego, how I loath thee!

At some point during the day between two school runs, I did have a lovely half an hour at a friend’s house, who supplied me with some wonderful chickpea flour – and a delicious coffee before I headed off into the day again.

That chickpea flour was going to be one of the ingredients in my trial for Sunday. You see, I decided to give an Apple Pie contest a go. It’s this Sunday. But, I want to make it gluten free and vegan. Better try it out – and good thing I did!

The pastry I made – didn’t really work the way it was supposed to. Darn tasty nonetheless – besides the funky aftertaste when eaten by itself. Ahem.

Here’s a sneak peek… full details of the final dish, and the recipe, will be revealed on Sunday night 😉 Hopefully, it won’t look like some sort of Halloween Ghost in food form then!

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I have to say, when it came out of the oven, it smelled divine! It didn’t look the part, but hey, I was willing to follow my nose and ignore my eyes. I carefully poked it with a fork, before it even cooled a little bit, and took a bite. Two words:

FOOD PORN

It was delicious!!!! So delicious, I immediately called the cubs to try and rejoice in my creation. First cub up was the 5 year old boy cub. Who immediately pulled a face and wildly gestured for a tissue to spit out the offending food. He then proceeded to claw at his tongue and asked for a drink to get rid of the taste.

Next cub up was his little sister. Same reaction.

Tiniest cub made it a hat trick.

Everyone’s a critic!!

Then, the 9 year old girl cub to the rescue – she took one bite and immediately declared it DELICIOUS and wanted more. So I shared the rest with her.

Is it wrong to have favourites…? *innocent whistling*

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

There’s nothing more wholesome and hugging in the autumn or winter than a nice hot bowl of soup.

And what’s more, with Halloween only just around the corner, there are pumpkins galore to be found in the shops. I like making this soup with a butternut squash, but there’s absolutely no problem to make this with any other pumpkin. So why not use the pumpkin flesh you take out of your Jack-o-Lantern you carve for Halloween?

This soup doesn’t call for many ingredients at all.

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When it is finished, it will be pureed, which means there’s no need to cut everything meticulously into tiny pieces. Saving you time and effort!

You see the big bowl – it’s full of chunky butternut and sweet potato pieces. And see what snuck in on the bottom left? A piece of fresh ginger. It’s actually a lovely addition at this time of year as it gives an extra little warming sensation to the soup. It’s like the extra squish of a lovely hug, in a bowl.

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And there’s my favourite herb trio: Thyme, Rosemary & Majoram. Those three amigos really work well together and make this soup just this little bit more delicious! As a side note: did you know Thyme is incredibly rich in Vitamin K and Iron?

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It only takes 15-20 minutes simmering on low heat to be ready for blitzing with a handheld wand!

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And there it is!!! All its goodness in a bowl. The recipe makes enough for 6 very generous helpings. I usually serve this with soda bread or brown bread (GF bread if you prefer that!) with either an olive spread or hummus.

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Prep time: 10 Minutes
Cooking time: 15 Minutes
Serves: 6

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Red Lentil Soup:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sweetpotato, peeled and chopped into chunky pieces
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunky pieces
  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly diced
  • 1 tsp each of dried thyme, rosemary & majoram
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

METHOD:

  1. In a large pot, heat up the olive oil. Then add both the onion and celery. Fry them in the oil until they get a slight bit soft.
  2. Add the herbs and stir for a few seconds. You’ll get a lovely smell!
  3. Add the chunky vegetables and stir to coat everything in the oil. Then add the lentils and enough cold water to just cover the vegetables.
  4. Bring to the boil, add a few dashes of salt (and the chunk of ginger if using), turn the heat right down to low and put a lid on.
  5. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the red lentils cooked.
  6. Take the soup off the heat and use the handheld blender to puree it. Fill into soup bowls, add freshly cracked pepper to taste and ENJOY!